You don’t know how loooong I’ve been waiting to tackle this one. This is a question I continually ask myself however what really sparked the need to write this article was the advice given by Film Courage: as writers [specifically screenwriters], the video suggests we should treat writing like an actual job, aiming for “20 hours a week”. This was the first time I had really thought of writing like that, so I took to Instagram and asked all the wonderful writers I know how often they think they should be writing…
All the responses fit into three categories. A writer should write ‘when inspiration hits’, ‘when they can’ or ‘everyday’. After looking into the reasoning for all of these I believe there is a right answer! I am going to breakdown each one with you.
When Inspiration Hits
Believe it or not but this was the most popular answer. But, SPOILER, I don’t think it’s the right one and here’s why: it’s unreliable. As an imaginative person I feel inspired in the most random of places, but to keep it simple, take the cinema as an example. I could be watching a Your Cinema featured film at one of our Q&A’s held at Vue. I will undoubtedly feel inspired but what I won’t do is whip out my laptop and start writing there and then just because inspiration has hit. Now say that I leave the cinema, make my way home and that inspiring feeling has faded, do I not write? Sometimes inspiration can be a fleeting experience, leaving just as hurriedly as it arrived.
Inspiration can also hit us internally with one mighty punch that says, “write now; right now!” In this instance, I commend you if you’re the type of writer that receives this kick often. But for those who go months without this then it’s very unreliable.
I’m not ruling out the power of inspiration though! I’m the type of guy who will discreetly jot down a few notes if I see something of interest during a screening.
When They Can
A good writer-friend of mine, Jeda Cacioli (who is currently working on a short film produced by Kashif Boothe), is on team ‘When they can’. She also says that writers shouldn’t “worry about the first draft being brilliant.” You can’t see it – but I’m clapping for Jeda right now. I fully agree with the idea that we shouldn’t stress over our first drafts. The pressure of it can sometimes stop us from writing in the first place! Adjani Salmon said something similar when I met him on the set of Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’. I don’t know if he’ll remember this, but I caught him off-guard whilst he was peacefully minding his own business. He told me that when he writes a script, the first is never perfect, he re-drafts and re-drafts. So I asked him, “how do you know when you’ve reached your last draft.” To which he gave an answer that I’ll never forget…
…I didn’t say I was going to share that answer but if you’re interested in his methods click here. He did tell me, however, that I should seek advice on the original question from Kayode Ewumi, who has literally just got back to me as I’m typing this! He says that a writer should write “when they feel to” specifically, “when they have something to say.”
While I do agree with the points made, my main issue with relying on writing ‘when we can’ is the whole ‘can’ part. For some of us, that statement may soon become, “when I have time” and that further turns into “after I rest my head for a bit”. Sooner or later we’ll find any excuse under the sun, moon and stars to avoid writing. Sometimes it’s really random excuses too! Inspiration will hit you but there’s suddenly no time to write because your “vacuum needs cleaning.”
Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at the correct answer, allow me to show you around.
I honestly believe that as writers (if we are taking the craft seriously), we should be writing every day. This was advice that poet/novelist Ben Okri gave to me at his book reading in Piccadilly and it has stuck with me ever since. This now leaves one question; how long should a writer spend writing every day? The aforementioned producer Kashif Boothe, creator of ‘Nate & Jamie’ and ‘Imperfect’ suggests we should aim to “write a scene a day.” Salina, another writer-friend of mine gave a time frame of “30-45 minutes.” Athian Akec, the ‘Inner City Ativist’ himself(!), recognised how this practice will “sharpen our prose.”
I’m convinced that a writer should write every day for as long as they feel like, even if they sit down for only a minute and write the most nonsensical sentence that pen-to-paper has ever created. Athian would agree that this helps to “develop our voice”. The way I see it, as writers we all have our projects in mind. They are a bit like destinations. It’s better to take that one step towards it every day, than to wait for a gust of wind (ie. inspiration) to decide when we should start moving.
Who do you agree with? Is writing every day realistic? YES/NO? – let us know!